Postcard of a Hanging

Ryan Lochte’s public shaming – a Darwinian fall from grace…

I don’t think he reads many books. But if there’s one book that belongs on Ryan Lochte’s nightstand right now, it’s this: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. It came out this spring to glowing reviews and the title pretty much says it all. Lochte’s current predicament could be a case study for a future expanded paperback edition.

Public shaming has always been a preferred form of societal revenge. Ronson points out that it was not only popular, but a state-sanctioned form of punishment in Colonial America. Nowadays it doesn’t need to be legalized; the ubiquitous cameras recording our every move and the light speed terror of social media make it inevitable. It quenches an ugly desire in all of us to devour that pound of flesh when public figures are caught behaving badly. The better looking, richer, and more successful, the better.

It happens in an instant. The outraged blood thirsty masses pounce and gorge in a frenzy. 48 hours later they’re wiping the meat from their teeth, while some scolding network anchor chides the shamed into a tearful mea culpa.

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What Didn’t Ryan Lochte Do?

The instantly infamous ‘Lochte Mugging’ in Rio has become an international incident spinning out of control… While his three American compatriots are left scrabbling to get their stories straight in front of an unamused host nation, the ringleader and superstar is somewhere stateside with a lot of explaining to do…

Congrats, boys. You’re part of one of the most successful and inspiring U.S. swim teams in history. A team packed with rookies, that entered Rio under a forecast of fading American swimming prospects. Instead, Team USA stepped up beyond all expectations. They collected an astonishing 33 medals in the pool in Rio, and this without two of their four superstars (Missy Franklin and Lochte himself) showing up much at all. U.S. swimmers always seem to dominate, but this was a special, transcendent team. Congrats, boys, you were part of that. You should be proud.

Except now, based on a few hazy drunken hours over the weekend, your team’s performance is no longer the headline. Your behavior – and your sketchy truthiness – is the thing that’s making international headlines. What the hell happened that night? Were all four of you blackout drunk? At this point, I hope so. Because that’s looking better than the alternative – that you collectively lied about something that has embarrassed and offended both your country and your Olympic host.

Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, and Jack Conger – now’s the time to start talking. Your stories weren’t straight the first time you told it, and now the security footage is coming in, and that’s looking pretty damning.

Look, I don’t doubt that you were robbed. I don’t doubt that a gun was pulled. I don’t think you made this whole thing up from whole cloth. Why would you? There’s nothing to gain, and everything to lose. But it does seem as though you weren’t entirely honest about how it all went down.

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Script Perfect

Tony Ervin wins gold at age 35, 16 years after the first one… Also – Maya Dirado is the old school throw-back as the ultimate ‘amateur’ champion; Katie Ledecky is the greatest athlete in all of Rio; and Bolles Nation rules again, with Joseph Schooling’s gold for Singapore over a trio of legends in the 100 fly… Notes on an all-time night of Olympic swimming…

Your twenties are supposed to be your prime, in sports anyway. Tony Ervin has competed in three Olympics, but none of them in his twenties. At age 19, he tied Gary Hall, Jr. for gold in the 50 free in Sydney. Then, as lore has it, he disappeared. He didn’t really. That’s when I met him, in those dark forgotten years full of rock n’ roll and booze and… well, inspiration. It was when Tony figured out what he loved about swimming in the first place, by teaching kids to swim in New York City.

He found himself and he rediscovered that monstrous dormant talent, a talent that has never been surpassed when it comes to swimming one lap of a pool faster than anyone else. In Rio that monster gift was awakened as never before. He’s the Olympic champion again in the 50. As a teenager he was the fastest man on earth through water. At age 35, he is again: The fastest human on the planet moving through earth’s most abundant surface.

Goddamn right.

It’s personal. We couldn’t be prouder of him. Tony is our Ambassador. By ‘we’ I mean Imagine Swimming, our swim school where Tony taught for a time in those ‘dark years’ that maybe weren’t so dark after all. Maybe they were the necessary night before the dawn.

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Canada’s Penny Wins Gold! (Not that NBC Noticed…)

USA’s Simone Manuel and Canada’s Penny Oleksiak tied for Olympic gold in the women’s 100 Free… A case study in the bias of knee-jerk nationalism and getting so caught up in one moment, you miss the other…

Look, I get it. This was a lot more than another American winning gold. This was the first African-American woman ever to win an individual Olympic swimming medal. This was big and it was bad ass and Simone Manuel deserves every bit of love and praise coming her way.

But here’s a quick memo for the good folks at NBC calling and producing these races: She TIED.

The other gold medalist, the equal gold medalist, was a 16-year-old Canadian by the name of Penny Oleksiak. A swimmer who is now the greatest ever in Canadian Olympic history. At 16-years-old, that swim stamps Penny as Canada’s all-time best in an Olympic swimming pool.

This isn’t just a foot-stomping former Canadian Olympian ranting about one his own not getting her due. This was poor pro-USA television. This was about getting so swept up in one achievement that the other, equal champion got this: An afterthought tag about “what an Olympics Penny Oleksiak is having” while the going-to-commercial music cued up.

At four Olympics, in 2000, 2004, 2006, and 2008, I was among the NBC team. At each of those Games, and I’m sure at every one before and since, every production staffer was required to attend a do’s and don’ts seminar right before the Olympics began. It was mostly a rah-rah self-congratulatory show for the pooh-bahs who ran things from the control rooms, but it was also a repetitive reminder to cool it with the Go-USA crap. Something that, no matter how many reminders, never ceases to seep deeply into the NBC broadcast of the Olympics.

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Phelps, Family Man Role Model

Michael Phelps has won 22 Olympic gold medals and counting… And that’s not the story.

I’ve taken some shots at Michael in the past. He knows it, I know it, anyone who reads what I write knows it. He didn’t like it. I wouldn’t have liked it either, but the words back then stand. The criticism was written roughly between the years 2009-2014. Not his finest half-decade, he’ll be the first to admit. There were some dark times in there, and no one likes to have a spotlight shined on his darkness.

Now’s time to shed some light.

Michael Phelps is having perhaps the second best Olympics of any swimmer ever. Surpassed only by his unsurpassable performance eight years ago in Beijing. Maybe his Games in 2004 in Athens will go down as the superior second best based on pure medal count. He did win six gold back then, along with that ’04 bronze in the 200 free – which was really his best race of all, in terms of ballsiness. But this time around it’s all different.

He’s seems to be a guy with hard-earned perspective. A guy who’s worked for what he’s achieving. A guy who appreciates it.

This was not always the case.

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“The Truth Remains That No One Wants to Know”

On the loss of Olympic faith…

I was driving north up the New York thruway yesterday, glad to be a million miles from Rio, wishing I could be more excited by the many inspiring performances down there, when an old Kris Kristofferson song came on called “To Beat the Devil.” How apt, thought I, immersed as I’ve been with some particular devilish battles of late. Turned it up, let him lay it on me.

The truth remains that no one wants to know…

Truer words. The devil in the song was an old man sitting at the bar, looking to crush the dreams of the dead broke kid beside him holding his guitar. No need for further details. The beauty of the good tunes is their ability to set your mind spinning wherever it needs to go.

My mind went to the NBA, to the NHL, to the NFL, to FIFA, and to every other major sport that consumes so much of our time and passions. And of course thoughts went to doping, the devil that lurks inside each and every one of them.

As I understand it, neither the NBA nor the NHL bother to test players at all during the playoffs. You know, when you have groups of obsessively competitive multimillionaires competing in insanely draining series, where recovery is paramount. As far as I can tell, the NFL just doesn’t give a shit, and nor do its fans. And to be fair – to be a fan of American football (as I am), means suspending your moral compass for your own vicarious enjoyment. These guys are killing each other; they’re all likely going to die at an earlier age than you or I because of what they do for a living. In that context, one can see how the cleanliness of your favorite aging linebacker or quarterback seems a little less urgent.

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